Jun 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Racial inequities in education can start as early as preschool

Students in a pre-K class at Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School.
Students in a pre-K class at Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School. Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Universal preschool would help close the math and reading gaps between white and black children who are approaching kindergarten, an analysis from the National Institute for Early Education Research shows.

The big picture: Schools with high quality learning programs have resources to ensure a child is on track in age-appropriate learning activities. These programs have systemically left black children behind due to high tuition and waiting lists.

  • Black children are on average nearly nine months behind in math and almost seven months behind in reading compared to their white non-Hispanic peers, the report notes.

Why it matters: Math and reading skills at kindergarten entry are indicators of later school success, and children who enter kindergarten behind are unlikely to catch up.

What they're saying: Universal pre-K would practically eliminate the reading skills gap for kindergarten and cut the math skills gap almost in half — from about nine months to five months.

  • Only Florida, Vermont and Washington, D.C., offer full universal pre-K, according to the Education Commission of the States.
  • Some cities, such as San Antonio, have expanded pre-K programs for eligible families.

Yes, but: Economic turmoil often leads to less spending in public schools, with lower standards and decreased enrollment. And right now, states are absorbing massive public health costs and economic blowback from the pandemic.

The bottom line, per Rutgers University researchers: "Providing all Black children access to high-quality preschool will not be a small task. It will require raising quality standards, expanding enrollment, and, of course, more funding."

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